Friday Squid Blogging: Flying Squid

Who knew?

“Hulse was shooting with burst mode on his camera, so I know exactly what the interval is between the frames and I can calculate velocity of squid flying though the air,” O’Dor says. “We now think there are dozens of species that do it. Squid are used to gliding in the water, so the same physiology probably allows them to maneuver and glide in the air. When you look at some of the pictures, it seems they are more or less using their fins as wings, and they are curling their arms in [a] shape that could easily be some kind of lifting surface.”

Posted on August 20, 2010 at 4:02 PM16 Comments


jbmoore August 20, 2010 4:22 PM

Kind of makes sense if you think about it. It’s also kind of odd that no one wrote a paper about it until now since it seems to be common knowledge among marine biologists.

steve August 20, 2010 4:37 PM

Hmm. My immediate thought is that this is someones practical joke. “..curling their arms in [a] shape that could easily be some kind of lifting surface.”
Being a pilot and a sailor I must say that sounds highly improbable.
I’ve not seen the video nor do I know anything about how these flying squid look like but I remain very skeptical. 🙂

steve August 20, 2010 4:48 PM

Very poor pictures that are too small to safely identify what it really is. Someone commented that they held a certain body formation that allowed them to glide through the air. Sounds interesting. If they can push water out one end it could possibly work as a water jet, much as the rocket toys that rely on air and water to reach for the skies.
The pics can easily be something else, or “photo shopped”, however fascinating if it indeed is a “flying” squid.

Clive Robinson August 20, 2010 6:35 PM

When working in the oil industry I saw (what I was told where) cuttle fish “fly out” of the water over a shortish distance. I was told by a trawlerman who worked on the supply vessel I was on that it indicated there where large prey in the water and by “jumping out” they could confuse the attacker.

So if cuttle fish can do it why not their bigger cousins?

Also in the news recently was a photo of quite large rays gliding, they kind of reminded me of the Vulcan bomber doing a low level pass at sea.

Clive Robinson August 20, 2010 7:01 PM

Moral don’t talk to someone who “knows” and “can put their had straight on it”…

I have just been shown a book with lurid green writting on the cover by Thomas Scott it’s called “concise encyclopedia of biology”, from the mid 1990’s.

If you have a copy have a look around page 239.

Roger August 20, 2010 10:04 PM

Call me extremely skeptical.

The idea that “Squid are used to gliding in the water, so the same physiology probably allows them to maneuver and glide in the air.” is utter nonsense. By the same argument, any aquatic animal can fly. I look forward to seeing graceful flocks of turtles swooping and cavorting in the sky. In reality, of course, water is a thousand times denser than air, so structures evolved to move in water are severely sub-optimal for aerial motion.

So what to make of these (anecdotal) reports of flying squid? Quite simply, they probably suffer from the same phenomenon that accounts for many UFO reports: that it is extremely difficult to estimate the size and speed of an object against a featureless background when you don’t already know its distance.

When there are no other objects in view and little or no background reference structure, and the object is too far to assess by visual parallax (which is anything more than about 10 m away), then all you have to go on is geometry. From the geometry of the situation, speed, distance and size are all related to each other, and if you get one wrong, you get all the rest wrong too.

The remarkable thing here is that if a witness is not trained in these specific hazards, he will often insist that his estimate is accurate, even though it is actually impossible to make an accurate estimate under these circumstances.

So if the Robinsons’ 20 cm “flying squid” was actually a 5 cm juvenile, then its 10 m long, 2 m high flight gets scaled back to a 2.5 m long, 50 cm high, jump.

I have no trouble believing that a startled squid may make a 2.5 m jump: I’ve personally seen them make jumps of a few feet. But I am extremely skeptical about a 10 m flight.

Doug August 21, 2010 12:15 AM

I don’t know how far they “fly,” but it is fairly common on a long-distance yacht race to pass through a group (pod? school?) of squid at night and to witness many of them leaping through the air in what seems to be an evasive behavior. They easily fly across the width of the boat (15 feet), and sometimes a squid will strike someone on deck with surprising force. I’ve seen them jump out at the bow and make it to the helmsman at the stern (45 feet away), but the boat is moving foward at the same time, of course.

These are small specimens, though, maybe 6 inches long at most.

Clive Robinson August 22, 2010 3:09 AM

@ Bruce,

OFF Topic

“… flight 5022 Crashed by Malware”

Is from the title of this

and several other articals.

On the second anniversary of the crash of Spanair flight 5022 there are reports that the accident investigators belive computer malware (specificaly a Trojan Horse) found on one of the avionics systems was a contributor to the crash.

The usual APT suspects have lept on it as a critical infrastructure “cyber attack”.

However I’m somewhat puzzeld, the aircraft (an MacDonald Douglas MD-80) is not a Fly By Wire (FBW) aircraft.

The physical cause of the crash appears to have been to it taking of with the flaps retracted, thus insufficient lift for safe flight at the low take of speed, the consequence was it stalled and had insufficient time/ hight for a recovery.

The malware was found in a computer that was responsable for monitoring avionics and attendent warning systems. As far as I can tell it was NOT in any way in control of any part of the aircraft flight surfaces etc.

What is being said is somewhat “lost in translation” but the sequence of events appear to be,

1, Pilot did not deploy flaps prior to take off.
2, The simple electrical system to detect this and / or the attendant primary warning system to alert
the pilot had no power.
3, The “infected” computer should have detected this fault.
4, The “infected” computer failed to warn pilot of fault in warning system.
5, The failure of detection or warning by the computer was caused by the infection.
6, This failure had been seen on atleast three previous occasions with this aircraft.

As far as I can tell the actual failure was “the nut behind the wheel” known as the pilot who failed to make the correct take off checks of cockpit controls not the fact that a secondary warning system had a malware infection.

I don’t buy the argument that a failure of such a warning system Was to blaim a pilot should be proactive in the use of basic flight drills not reactively reliant on warning systems to corect basic behaviour faults. As a comenter on a pilots blog put it?

There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but no old bold pilots….

Sadly we see this sort of human behaviour all to often in the InfoSec field, as well as the politicaly minded agender pushers misrepresenting events tragic or not to improve their status as cyber guardians in their chicken little existance.

Garfield and Friends August 22, 2010 8:10 PM

Hi Bruce. I’ve frequently discovered many articles of yours through Google searches dating back several years and I wish to thank you for preserving the links and not deleting or moving them.

Roger August 23, 2010 9:20 AM

I did a little research, and it seems that the highest speed recorded in squid that are “jetting” underwater is 25 mph, which is about 11 m/s. That’s pretty darn fast.

If a squid going at that speed were to launch itself at a 45° angle, then, ignoring air resistance, it would have a purely ballistic range of 12.7 m, or 42 feet.

Now, these are very optimistic assumptions: 25 mph is a record speed, all the launches I have seen have been at much lower angles, and of course there actually is some air resistance (albeit that squid are rather compact and streamlined.) However, it would seem that 10 m is just about plausible, if an extreme figure. I still would tend to think that the distance estimate was likely exaggerated somewhat, but it is not impossible.

None of this requires any “flying” or gliding.

Ken Williams August 23, 2010 10:30 AM

To calculate velocity you’d need more than “burst mode”, you’d also need to know the distances traveled. Maybe they’re just calculating relative velocity?

Luca August 24, 2010 8:46 AM

They may fly a little farther if they could squirt water in mid-air… 🙂

I like the idea and don’t find it particularly unlikely.

Give them another 50 Million years, and they’ll be all over the sky…

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